'This is an extraordinary, quite brilliant book' - C. J. Sansom
What kind of person keeps a man underground for seven years?
And who would agree to be part of such an experiment?
Herbert Powyss lives on a small estate in the Welsh Marches, with enough time and income to pursue a gentleman's fashionable cultivation of exotic plants and trees. But he longs to make his mark in the field of science - something consequential enough to present to the Royal Society in London.
He hits on a radical experiment in isolation: for seven years a subject will inhabit three rooms in the cellar of the manor house, fitted out with books, paintings and even a chamber organ. Meals will arrive thrice daily via a dumbwaiter. The solitude will be totally unrelieved by any social contact; the subject will keep a diary of his daily thoughts and actions. The pay? Fifty pounds per annum, for life.
Only one man is desperate enough to apply for the job: John Warlow, a semi-literate labourer with a wife and six children to provide for. The experiment, a classic Enlightenment exercise gone more than a little mad, will have unforeseen consequences for all included. In this seductive tale of self-delusion and obsession, Alix Nathan has created an utterly transporting historical novel which is both elegant and unforgettably sinister.
Praise for Alix Nathan:
'She cuts against cliché, against the received version, against cosiness. She leaves her reader restless, curious, wanting more. She is an original, with a virtuoso touch.'
A powerful and unsettling novel, both fascinating and infinitely strange (Andrew Taylor)
Unusual, gripping and emotionally complex - I loved this book. (Sally Magnusson, author of The Sealwoman's Gift)
This is an extraordinary, quite brilliant book. It captures the language and mental framework of the late eighteenth century perfectly, the characters are beautifully drawn people of real depth, and we are shocked and chastened by how easily the scientific rationalism of the "Age of Reason" could turn into appalling cruelty and oppression. We are in the 1790s, and across the Channel the rule of reason has turned into the crunch of the guillotine; in England the Warlow Experiment shows us a less savagely dramatic, smaller-scale, but scarcely less cruel, example of the worship of Reason gone terribly wrong. (C. J. Sansom)